Posted by: Shanna Germain | 09/15/2009

Pg. 162: Baggage

Dew-covered spider web just after dawn.

Dew-covered spider web just after dawn.

Today, I went to the small storage unit that I have here in Portland. I wanted to drop off some “Scotland clothes” (meaning anything waterproof, windproof and warm) and in the process, I took stock of what was there. Even though I only left it behind six months ago, it already seemed like things that belonged to someone else. I recognized some of it, of course: the box of books and magazines I’ve been published in, the box of business papers (receipts, contracts, taxes), the box of mementos (which is like an archeological dig of my past, because for the past twenty years, I’ve just kept adding new stuff on top of the old). But the rest? I mean, what did I think I was going to do with the red button-up shirt that I never wore, or those heeled sandals that look hot as hell but give me blisters every time I wear them? I have no idea. Six months ago, they seemed important to save. Today, I was tempted to go through everything again and reduce, reduce, reduce.

Lots of people ask me: Do I miss any of the stuff I gave away? And I have to say, I don’t. In fact, I barely remember what I gave away. The only thing I miss is my treadmill (it went to a fantastic home), my bike, and my pet. Those are the big three. The rest I can’t even recall.

I’ve been thinking a lot about baggage lately. Not just the kind that comes packed, rolled, squished down and wrinkled in a suitcase. But also the kind that we carry in our bodies and minds. For a long time, my belief about baggage has been this: We all have baggage, some of us just pack better than others. It’s kind of a rote response, I know, but I believe it’s true.

For instance, I have people in my life for whom nothing’s ever right — their parents fucked them up for life, their boss is an asshole, the cop gave them a ticket they didn’t deserve, the don’t have enough money or enough things or enough experiences, life sucks, it sucks, it sucks. It’s always going to suck. Those people, it seems to me, haven’t yet learned how to pack well. They drag their dirty laundry and their sixteen scrapbooks and their grievances everywhere they go.

On the other hand, I have friends who are going through a world of shit right now — deaths, divorces, cancer… You name it, someone’s going through it. And they are out there, kicking the world’s ass despite everything. They have packed their shit, and they’ve packed it well enough to haul it all over the world/hospital/court room/funeral parlor/whatever.

I’m not saying one’s better than the other, or that I’m an expert packer myself, by any means. Every once in a while, some dirty bit of laundry falls out of my emotional carry-on bag and the world breaks down. Or I stick my hand in my suitcases, searching for a rolled-up travel map and I manage to stab myself with the sharp point of my past.

I just read this really great article called The 10 Unexpected Costs of Owning Things at a fantastic website called Almost Fearless. The thing that struck me the most about this article was the idea of having things just to have them. I think that sometimes we like to have our baggage out for the world to see. We let it get strewn around so that we can bitch and moan about it and use it as an excuse to be stuck where we are, to not move forward, to not take responsibility for our own actions and thus, our own futures.

It seems to me that the important thing about baggage is this: We can choose what we do with it. Take it or leave it. There’s that old adage that you can’t run away from your problems, that you carry them with you wherever you go. To which I say, yes. And no. I think you can choose to leave them behind, to seal them in a tub with a bunch of other things and put them into storage for save keeping. That way, in six months, you can revisit all of them — health concerns, relationship problems, bad parents, bad children, bad attitude, emotional trauma and drama — and you can decide if you really want to keep them around. Or maybe you’ll look at them like I looked at that blister-inducing pair of sandals, and be tempted to throw them away, once and for all.

What does your baggage look like, inside and out? And how willing are you to haul it around for the rest of your life?

Far and fast, s.


“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to asses the road which lie ahead and those over which we have traveled, and if the feature road looms ominous or unpromising, and the road back uninviting-inviting, then we need to gather our resolve and carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that one as well.” ~Maya Angelou



  1. I’m great with my baggage. I leave it in an unused corner that I rarely go by, and when I do I’m like “Oh… shit I forgot about that…” and thumb through it for about 5 minutes before I go “Yup… remember why it was here. Hey look, shiney thing” and leave it in the corner again to go find something else to keep me entertained and off whatever what hiding in the corner.

    Probably not the best way to deal with things, but my “forget today what you don’t want to deal with tomorrow” motto seems to work well for me. I’m still happy.

  2. Just what I needed to hear today, Shanna…thank you so much.

  3. As one who, over the years, has had storage units on three different continents (often simultaneously), I echo everything you’ve said. Now, I’m down to a storage unit in Denver and a load of junk stored with friends in Melbourne. But never again. When we leave Ireland at the end of the year, I’m either shipping or getting rid of EVERYTHING. I’ll collect the junk from Melbourne, and no doubt throw out most of it. No more storage for me. At least until the next move. 😉

  4. As I start to build a home in Costa Rica I have been carefully going through my baggage and choosing what goes along. I believe I’ll end up getting rid of 80%. It feels good. Like weight off of my shoulders. I’ve got all of the essentials there now, when I fly I only have to carry a book my passport and wallet. I watch with delight as people fight to push ten pounds of shit into a five pound overhead. Snicker.

  5. The older I get the less *stuff* I want… I have to balance what do I invest in taking care of a thing versus having to invest in experiences or relationships or creativity.

    The stuff usually loses. heh heh heh.

  6. Too little money to own too much…

    Way too busy to care…

    Too many people to bitch and such…

    Yet I still feel like walking on air…

  7. Thanks.

    I get to decide every month on the 15th whether all that ‘baggage’ is worth saving when I go pay my rent on my storage locker. I don’t mind being reminded of my choices, back when.

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